The Disadvantages Of Working Mules That Are Too Young





A great many of the mules purchased by the Government during the war

were entirely too young for use. This was particularly so in the West,

where both contractor and inspector seemed anxious only to get the

greatest number they could on the hands of the Government, without

respect to age or quality. I have harnessed, or rather tried to harness,

mules during the war, that were so young and small that you could not

get collars small enough to fit them. As to the harness, they were

almost buried in it. A great many of these small mules were but two

years old. These animals were of no use to the Government for a long

time. Indeed, the inspector might just as well have given his

certificate for a lot of milk cows, so far as they added to our force of

transportation. Another source of trouble has been caused through a

mistaken opinion as to what a young mule could do, and how he ought to

be fed. Employers and others, who had young mules under their charge

during the war, had, as a general thing, surplus forage on hand. When

they were in a place where nine pounds of grain could be procured, and

fourteen of hay, the full allowance was purchased. The surplus resulting

from this attracted notice, and many wondered why it was that the

Government did not reduce the forage on the mule. These persons did not

for a moment suspect, or imagine, that a three year old mule has so many

loose teeth in his mouth as to be hardly able to crack a grain of corn,

or masticate his oats.



Another point in that case is this: at three years old, a mule is in a

worse condition, generally, than he is at any other period in life. At

three, he is more subject to distemper, sore eyes, and inflammation of

all parts of the head and body. He becomes quite weak from not being

able to eat, gets loose and gaunt, and is at that time more subject and

more apt to take contagious diseases than at any other change he may go

through. There is but one sure way to remedy this evil. Do not buy three

year old mules to put to work that it requires a five or six year old

mule to perform. Six three year old mules are just about as fit to

travel fifteen miles per day, with an army wagon loaded with twenty-five

hundred and their forage, as a boy, six years of age, is fit to do a

man's work. During the first twelve months of the war, I had charge of

one hundred and six mule-teams, and I noticed in particular, that not

one solitary mule as high as six years old gave out on the trips that I

made with the teams. I also noticed that, on most occasions, the three

year olds gave out, or became so leg-weary that they could scarce walk

out of the way of the swingle-tree, whereas those of four and upward

would be bright and brisk, and able to eat their forage when they came

to camp. The three year old mules would lie down and not eat a bite,

through sheer exhaustion. I also noticed that nearly all the three year

old mules that went to Utah, in 1857, froze to death that winter, while

those whose ages varied from four, and up to ten, stood the winter and

came out in the spring in good working condition. In August, 1855, I

drove a six-mule team to Fort Riley, in Kansas Territory, from Fort

Leavenworth, on the Missouri River, loaded with twelve sacks of grain.

It took us thirteen days to make the trip. When we reached Fort Riley

there were not fifty mules, in the train of one hundred and fifty, that

would have sold at public sale for thirty dollars, and a great many gave

out on account of being too young and the want of proper treatment. In

the fall of 1860, I drove a six-mule team, loaded with thirty hundred

weight, twenty-five days' rations for myself and another man, and twelve

days' storage for the team, being allowed twelve pounds to each mule per

day. I drove this team to Fort Laramie, in Nebraska Territory, and from

there to Fort Leavenworth, on the Missouri River. I made the drive there

and back in thirty-eight days, and laid over two and a half days out of

that. The distance travelled was twelve hundred and thirty-six miles.

After a rest of two days, I started with the same team, and drove to

Fort Scott, in Kansas Territory, in five days, a distance of one hundred

and twenty miles. I went with Harney's command, and, for the most part

of the time, had no hay, and was forced to subsist our animals on dry

prairie grass, and had a poor supply of even that. Notwithstanding this,

I do not believe that any mule in the team lost as much as ten pounds of

flesh. Each of these mules, let me say, was upward of five years old.



In 1858, I took a train of mules to Camp Floyd, in Utah, forty-eight

miles south of Salt Lake City; During the march there were days and

nights that I could not get a drop of water for the animals. The young

mules, three and four years old, gave out from sheer exhaustion; while

the older ones kept up, and had to draw the wagons along. Now, there are

many purposes to which a young mule may be put with advantage; but they

are altogether unfit for army purposes, and the sooner the Government

stops using them, the better.



When they are purchased for army use, they are almost sure to be put

into a train, and turned over to the tender mercies of some teamster,

who knows nothing whatever about the character of the animal. And here

let me say that thousands of the best mules in the army, during the war,

were ruined and made useless to the Government on account of the

incompetency and ignorance of the wagon-masters and teamsters who had to

deal with them. Persons who own private teams and horses are generally

particular to know the character of the person who takes care of them,

and to ascertain that he knows his business. Is he a good driver? Is he

a good groom? Is he careful in feeding and watering? These are the

questions that are asked; and if he has not these qualities he will not

do. But a teamster in the army has none of these questions put to him.

No; he is intrusted with a valuable team, and expected to take proper

care of it when he has not the first qualification to do so. If he is

asked a question at all, it is merely if he has ever driven a team

before. If he answer in the affirmative, and there are any vacancies, he

is employed at once, though he may not know how to lead a mule by the

head properly. This is not alone the case with teamsters. I have known

wagon-masters who really did not know how to straighten out a six-mule

team, or, indeed, put the harness on them properly. And yet the

wagon-master has almost complete power over the train. It will be

readily seen from this, how much valuable property may be destroyed by

placing incompetent men in such places. Wagon-masters, it seems to me,

should not be allowed, under any circumstances, to have or take charge

of a train of animals of any kind until they are thoroughly competent to

handle, harness, and drive a six-animal team.



There is another matter which needs essential improvement. I refer now

to the men who are placed as superintendents over our Government corrals

and depots for animals. Many of these men know little of either the

horse or the mule, and are almost entirely ignorant of what is necessary

for transportation. A superintendent should have a thorough knowledge of

the character and capacity of all kinds of animals necessary for a good

team. He should know at sight the age and weight of animals, should be

able to tell the most suitable place for different animals in a team,

and where each would be of the most service. He should know all parts of

his wagon and harness at a glance, be able to take each portion apart

and put them together again, each in its proper shape and place, and,

above all, he should have practical experience with all kinds of animals

that are used in the army. This is especially necessary during war.





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